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Looking Back: Guardian of the Last Post


John Kinnear

Nov 8, 2023

The tradition of the playing of the Last Post goes back to around 1790 and was used by the British Army to signify to their soldiers to “stand down” for the day. 

The tradition of the playing of the Last Post goes back to around 1790 and was used by the British Army to signify to their soldiers to “stand down” for the day.  Its usage for Remembrance Day services dates back to 1928 when it was played at the Menin Gate in Belgium to remember the soldiers that fell in the First World War.  The gate was chosen for this ceremony as it was where thousands of men had passed through on their way to the front, many of whom which never returned.   For 65 -year-old Walter Gail its playing is also a sacred tradition, one that he has consistently and without fail played for Remembrance Day services here in the Crowsnest Pass for a remarkable 51 years now.   

Walter has a history with music that goes way back. Gail has always been musically inclined, right from a very early age, and to no surprise named Herb Alpert of the Tijuana Brass as an inspiration. Back then he was amazed at the sweet notes that Alpert could produce from his trumpet. Herb’s choice of trumpet is called a Benge, named after its creator Elden Benge. Walter decided this was for him and took his early training with an old beat up trumpet his parents has acquired for him. His instructor was Frank Edl Junior, whose orchestra; sometimes called the Polka Kings was renowned as having played at just about every dance in the 1930’s from Hosmer to Pincher Creek.  Edl took over the Crowsnest Pass Band in 1942 and kept it together until 1972 when instrumental music was introduced into the schools.  That is right about the time that Walter played his first Armistice, at Edl’s encouragement, as the legions were looking for someone for the job. 

Gail says Edl was a tough teacher but very talented and helped mold his career with the trumpet. In his early years Walter was banished to his bedroom to practice and said that his playing used to spook the Linderman’s horses in Hillcrest. His trumpet then was a brass Conn which he had for many years right into high school.  About 20 years ago Gail bought a Bach Stradivarius professional model trumpet which is the gold standard and the most popular trumpet in the world.  

The trumpet, Gail says, works better and sounds better than a bugle as there is more opportunity for note variations and the Last Post sounds much better on it.  According to Walter the Post is a very tough song to play with notes that are left hanging.  You must focus and bring on that one minute of reverence with every bit of care and skill that you can. 

 Through the 18 years that I have observed him in action here I noticed that with his indoor playing of the Post he places himself in a very obscure spot. So pictures of him in this regard are hard to come by, as in at the Remembrance Day High School morning service. Walter tells me that this is deliberate and describes it as being “nowhere and everywhere”. If you have ever heard his playing echo off the gym walls there, you will know how profound that comment is.   

He also shared with me that he has travelled great distances to maintain his attendance here on November 11th, including trips from Fort McMurray and Faro in the Yukon.   For Gail it is both an honour and a privilege to do what he does so consistently well.  You will note that he wears a special military style coat and hat at outdoor services. These were gifted to him by members of the Coleman Legion who organized many years ago the Hillcrest Armistice Honour Guard and outfitted some of the Hillcrest Firefighters and Gail along with them.  

Walter told me that he has also plays the Post at Blairmore every year as part of his routine, regardless of whether there is service or not. He does this out of respect for those from this town that served and or were lost in the wars. He wants Blairmore citizens to know and hear by his playing that these men and women are not forgotten “at the going down of the sun.”  It has also been his privilege to play at the services of many vets that have passed through the years.  The Last Post played at their graveside for him signifies that “their duty is over and they can rest in peace.”

These last few years Gail has found more opportunity to be a trumpeter including Christmas concerts and rocking it out with the On the Rox Band. When Walter Gail puts his trumpet to his lips at Remembrance there is a two-fold message in those notes from him. One is that of respect for those lost and one is his earnest desire that somehow this world finds peace.   So this year if you are privileged enough to be within earshot of this dedicated man’s Last Post, remember not just those who were lost or served but also be mindful of the man who plays to acknowledge them and demonstrates, in his own way, what courage, conviction and grace are. 

Author’s Note:  If you search “Walter Gail” in the Crowsnest Network Facebook site you will find a 2019 video of him faithfully playing in a nasty storm at Coleman.

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